By Burke Swindlehurst, Navigators Insurance Cycling Team
Ahhhhh….sweet home Alaba…… well, okay, I mean, Salt Lake City.
It’s been a while and things don’t look much different here than when I started my epic travels seven weeks ago. It still looks like January outside, with daily snow accumulations and temps in the 30’s. But I’m not going to complain, no siree. I’m just happy as a clam to be sleeping in my own bed, breathing fresh mountain air and seeing my wife’s happy face every morning instead of a haggard teammate’s disheveled mug.
Oh, the things I’ve seen in the past month-and-a-half…..Australia, Italy, France, Switzerland, Spain, lions, tigers and Tuscan boars. Okay, maybe not tigers.
I’ll try to give a brief recap. It started mid January with the Jacob’s Creek Tour Down Under in Adelaide, Australia. What a blast! Six days of racing in summer weather through the Aussie wine country.
This race was first class, in all aspects. The organization was incredible, right down to business class flights for the teams on Malaysian Airlines and accommodations in the Hilton. You know, a guy could get used to this (but probably shouldn’t).
This was followed by five days back home and then the big trip to Europe for our Navigator’s team training camp and some intense racing.
Our training camp was held once again in the Tuscan hill country of Donaratico, Italia. I have to tell ya, it was nice to be in a place where we had already scoped out the riding the previous season, knew the food we were going to be eating (very good food, by the way) and how to jimmy-rig the phone jacks to get on-line.
After six days of sufficiently pummeling each other (or being pummeled) it was time to begin the racing. It’s all pretty much a blur from that point on: A lot of travel; smokey hotel rooms; cranky hotel staff; cuisine ranging from the inedible to the sublime; rainy races; getting lost on the way to rainy races; having rainy races canceled (yeah!); being buzzed by Italian motorists while training five hours in the rain because rainy race was canceled (arghh!); watching “The Big Lebowski” and “Super Troopers” DVD’s for the hundredth time to offset anguish from riding in the rain for five hours and being buzzed by Italian motorists.
Life as a pro… oh, it’s glamorous as hell. GLAMOROUS AS HELL!!!
Speaking of rain, they say it falls mainly on the plain in Spain, and now I can personally attest to this fact. After a couple of races in France, I was able to hook up with an old friend and previous teammate from way back, Levi Leipheimer. He invited me to come stay at his casa in Girona with his lovely wife Odessa, four Spanish cats, and much to his surprise, a new edition, a little ball of foot-humping fury named “Bandit,” an eight-week-old longhair Chihuahua.
It was great to catch up on old times with friends I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. Levi was taking a few easy days of riding, so after an hour or so, I was on my own to explore the Spanish countryside, well equipped with map, cell phone (Levi: “You’re where?”) and some rudimentary direction-asking phrases taught to me by Odessa. My “Sisplow, directione Girona?” would almost always elicit blank stares and hurried walking in the opposite direction.
Getting lost has its advantages. I managed to turn a three-hour ride into four-and-a-half-hour adventure. The next day, I stretched a four-hour ride into five-and-a-half. I savored every minute of it, too. The countryside was beautiful with rural roads, considerate motorists and the kind of climbs that can force a grimace into a smile. Oh, and it is true about the rain. Mainly, it’s right there on the plain.
Unfortunately, my Spanish sojourn had to end, so I bid adios to my friends – furry and otherwise – and met up with the rest of the team near Lugano, Switzerland for my final race of the trip, the Grand Prix Chiasso. ‘
The race was dry, but bitterly cold on a very hilly circuit totaling 160 kilometers. The action was blistering from the gun and reminded me a lot of our June race in Lancaster, PA. With all the available climbs on the course, the chosen feed zone was on a short, flat section that was immediately after a 60mph decent. I would guess the field was ripping through there at about 40mph. Needless to say, I didn’t get a feed during the race and despite feeling the best I had all month, I cramped mercilessly with about 40km remaining and was dropped like a Kobe Bryant McDonald’s ad.
My only consolation came from the mantra that I had been practicing all month: “It’s only February, it’s only February”…..or is it January? March? Looking out the window, contemplating my ride for the day, all I see is the white stuff and I’m thinking right about now how nice a rainy ride in Italy would be getting buzzed by geezers in their three- wheeled motorcycle/truck diesel-spewing Piaggio’s.
Until next time, yours in contradictionTbird